Nearly 600 cheering, dancing people lined up to get a first look at the Midlands’ only Nordstrom Rack on Harbison Boulevard a couple of weeks ago. Inside, they found an upscale store with $200 purses and $150 jeans.
Less than four miles away, a Rose’s discount store was preparing a new store on St. Andrews Road, offering $15 dresses and $25 comforter sets.
The juxtaposition represents the reality of today’s retail market -- and economy. A shrinking middle class has led to a surge in both upper-end stores and discount retailers.
“That’s true everywhere,” said Rox Pollard, director of the retail services group for Colliers International commercial real estate firm in Columbia. “That’s nationwide.”
Wealthy shoppers with surging 401K accounts and secure jobs are willing to spend. They will shop at the area’s new Whole Foods, Anthropologie and J.Crew.
Meanwhile, other workers still are piecing together part-time jobs or suffering from pay cuts and job losses leftover from the worst recession since their grandparents were still in knee-shorts and high chairs. They are looking for discounts, sales and coupons. That has driven an influx of discount stores and consignment shops.
“You can’t find the $30 pair of jeans,” said Ben Johnson, research director for CBRE|Columbia. “You can get Wranglers at Walmart or get them at Express or The Gap for $70. There’s not that mid-range.”
While Columbia’s demographics lend well to value shopping, higher-end shopping is just discovering the Midlands, Pollard said. “Columbia’s kind of the next city on the list.”
If those retailers can find the right property and the right deal, they will come, he said.
Apple, for example, has stores in Greenville and Charleston. Developers say it has indicated serious interest in Columbia before but haven’t yet found the right spot.
“People stand in line to pay full price to buy their products,” Pollard said, such as an iPhone 6 that could cost as much as $500.
Costco is another retailer with multiple locations throughout the state that Columbia shoppers are clamoring for. The membership warehouse retailer sells discounted bulk items, such as 64 ounces of bacon for $14.
A deal to bring Costco to Piney Grove Road fell through last year when the developer of the site couldn’t get the tax breaks it wanted from Richland County.
While there are still probably fewer people in the “have” category than “have nots” in Columbia, Pollard said, “there’s a big enough population of both people to support both kinds of merchants.”